Friday, May 22, 2020

One Ring to Rule Them All

I regard progressivism as basically a movement on behalf of Big Government in all walks of the economy and society…

-          Murray Rothbard

I have written here about how Christianity can play its part in moving toward a society better grounded in liberty.  To summarize: civil law should be aimed against violations of person and property – basically violations of the non-aggression principle (recognizing that’s application of this principle gets a bit tough at the edges); it is the role of other institutions – and, I argue, Christianity in the form of churches – to properly teach moral instruction.

Here, I will examine what I consider as the wrong means for Christians to achieve these ends – and a means by which much of the destruction of liberty that we have seen since the turn of the last century gained its force.  Christians offered Sauron the ring and then thought they could then control him.

This essay can also be found as Chapter 13 in The Progressive Era, written by Murray Rothbard and edited by Patrick Newman.  I will focus on one specific aspect of the essay, and that focus is best described as follows:

Also animating both groups of progressives was a postmillennial pietist Protestantism that had conquered "Yankee" areas of northern Protestantism by the 1830s and had impelled the pietists to use local, state, and finally federal governments to stamp out "sin," to make America and eventually the world holy, and thereby to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth.

By “both groups,” Rothbard is writing of “a fusion or coalition between various groups of big businessmen, led by the House of Morgan, and rising groups of technocratic and statist intellectuals.”  These intellectuals include not just academicians, but “also all manner of opinion-molders in society — writers, journalists, preachers, scientists, activists of all sort — what Hayek calls ‘secondhand dealers in ideas.’”

For those unfamiliar with postmillennialism:

In Christian end-times theology (eschatology), postmillennialism…is an interpretation of chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation which sees Christ's second coming as occurring after the "Millennium", a Golden Age in which Christian ethics prosper.

So, my focus will be on the role of these “postmillennial pietist Protestants” in using state power to advance their social agenda.  This would then hasten the Second Coming, as a thousand years of purity was required before Jesus would return.

It was this desire to harness state power as the means by which human beings can be made pure for Christ (I am gagging as I write these words) that made it possible for others to then use the state to usurp the traditional role of Christianity in society: that of being the moral teacher, that of helping the poor and disadvantaged, that of holding civil authority accountable.  And guess what?  While these others appreciated using the state as the means, they most certainly didn’t see Christian morality as the end.

With that, let’s look at Rothbard:

…I am convinced that the war [World War I] came to the United States as the "fulfillment," the culmination, the veritable apotheosis of progressivism in American life.

This is a powerful statement: it is in World War I where progressivism reached its fulfillment.  The ultimate ends, or purpose, of progressivism was to be found in this war – this war that Jacques Barzun and others describe as the suicide of the West, this war that was the fruit of killing God, as Nietzsche’s madman predicted and as Solzhenitsyn would later record.

Progressivism could only lead here, and it was here that it achieved its ultimate end.  And Rothbard dedicates at least this chapter (maybe many others; I have not read the entire book), to the role that postmillennial pietist Protestants played in the United States in bringing on this end (and, of course, all of the “gifts” that have continued in the century since).

…most [intellectuals] combined in their thought and agitation messianic moral or religious fervor with an empirical, allegedly "value-free," and strictly "scientific" devotion to social science.

Rothbard has written a good amount on the risk of “value-free” social science when it comes to the possibility of achieving liberty.  And, of course, no scientist approaches his science in a value-free manner; value-free is just used as code.  Often, but not always, it is meant to imply no revelation – meaning no Christianity.

One of the few important omissions in Professor [Robert] Higgs's book [Crisis and Leviathan] is the crucial role of postmillennial pietist Protestantism in the drive toward statism in the United States. Dominant in the "Yankee" areas of the North from the 1830s…

This politically influential subset of Christians saw the State as the instrument through which they would stamp out sin and Christianize the social order – thus speeding Jesus’s return and bringing on their hoped-for thousand-year reign.

Citing Professor James H. Timberlake:

According to this view, the Christian's duty was to use the secular power of the state to transform culture so that the community of the faithful might be kept pure and the work of saving the unregenerate might be made easier.

They would preach a Social Gospel.  An important leader in this regard was Rev. Josiah Strong, through his monthly journal The Gospel of the Kingdom. 

…in the July 1914 issue, The Gospel of the Kingdom hailed the progressive spirit that was at last putting an end to "personal liberty"

World War One would start that same month.  Citing Strong:

We are no longer frightened by that ancient bogy — "paternalism in government." We affirm boldly, it is the business of government to be just that — Paternal. Nothing human can be foreign to a true government.

Amazingly, they thought that they could harness the power of the one ring that could rule them all.  Tolkien would write his book about sixty years too late.  These pietists believed that this power could be used not just in the United States, but exported throughout the world.  Starting with World War One.

Via entry in the war, the dreams of the progressive prohibitionists could be fulfilled.  Food production, placed under Hoover, meant that there was now a vehicle through which grain for alcohol use could be prohibited.  Even beer – the favorite of the out-of-favor German Catholics and Lutherans – would be banned.

Next came women’s suffrage and the vote, greatly increasing the ranks of pietist voters.  Citing Susan B. Anthony:

There is an enemy of the homes of this nation and that enemy is drunkenness. …I say, if you believe in chastity, if you believe in honesty and integrity, then take the necessary steps to put the ballot in the hands of women.

Hoover would enlist the cooperation of the nation’s women in his quest for food industry cartelization: all for the good of “’conservation’ and elimination of ‘waste,’” as Rothbard puts it.  In addition to food control, another important and immediate function of the Woman's Committee was to attempt to register every woman in the country for possible volunteer or paid work in support of the war effort. Every woman aged sixteen or over was asked to sign and submit a registration card with all pertinent information, including training, experience, and the sort of work desired.

In 1910, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., like his father a pietist Baptist, was chairman of a special grand jury to investigate and to try to stamp out prostitution in New York City. For Rockefeller, the elimination of prostitution was to become an ardent and lifelong crusade. He believed that sin, such as prostitution, must be criminated, quarantined, and driven underground through rigorous suppression.

Then there was the New Republic magazine:

…founded in 1914 as the leading intellectual organ of progressivism, was a living embodiment of the burgeoning alliance between big-business interests, in particular the House of Morgan, and the growing legion of collectivist intellectuals.

All of this power granted to the state would soon be turned from a postmillennial progressive Christian statism to progressive secular statism.

[John Dewey] he was far more interested in the wonderful changes that the war would surely bring about in the domestic American polity. In particular, war offered a golden opportunity to bring about collectivist social control in the interest of social justice.

We are value-free, after all.  This desired marriage of church and state was certain to end in dominance, if not divorce, as power doesn’t really like to be told what to do.

"Why should not the war serve," the [New Republic] magazine asked, "as a pretext to be used to foist innovations upon the country?" In that way, progressive intellectuals could lead the way in abolishing "the typical evils of the sprawling half-educated competitive capitalism."

The ends of this progressivist agenda is war, as Rothbard offered in the title of this chapter.  War as fulfillment, beatitudo – turning the proper ends of man into horror.


These postmillennial pietist Protestants thought that they could control the one ring that would rule them all.  We saw that even Frodo was not immune to the power of the ring, succumbing at the last moment, at the edge of the abyss.

Such a ring should be in the hands of no human being; it will only bring out the worst in people, and it will be the worst of the worst who will end up with it.  As long as the ring existed, it would return to Sauron.

Christianity does have its proper role to play in securing liberty against the over-reach of the state.  It is far from playing that role today, still dancing with the state that has happily taken control of the ring.  Yet every day we are left playing a losing battle – both for Christian ethics and for liberty.


  1. Not exactly on point, but talking about Germans and prohibition. In lead up to nationwide prohibition, it occurred in many states. In NY, the law was against "intoxicating liquors". So the owners of German beer gardens sued. The owners would testify for a couple of hours and then the lawyer would ask: How many Lagers did you have before testifying today? Answer: Oh, only 23! They won the cases and the beer gardens were allowed to stay open because they obviously weren't too intoxicating. "Capitalism breathes through those loopholes."

    1. Eric, any drinking comment on any of my blog posts is relevant and on point!

    2. The postmillennial impulse seems alive and well today even in the liturgical churches that were, according to Murray, the object of legislative assault by the liberal evangelicals. That Pope Francis embodies that impulse is no accident: he is, after all, a Jesuit. A history of the Society of Jesus and its relationship to the Catholic equivalent of the Social Gospel might be very illuminating. The college courses that were most dangerous to my sons's spiritual heath were most theology classes (a few rabidly anti-Christian English courses as well) at the Jesuit University where I am a faculty member. Somehow, the boys built up antibodies against this spiritual virus, and now seem more paleolibertarian than their parents.

    3. The postmillennial spirit seems alive and well even in those liturgical churches that Murray says were the object of liberal evangelical ire. Among Catholics, that spirit seems closely related to the Society of Jesus, and a history of the Jesuit relationship to the Catholic equivalent of the Social Gospel might be illuminating. It is not surprising that Pope Francis is a Jesuit. At the Jesuit university where I teach, the most anti-Christian, thoughtless courses were in the Theology Department, English Literature coming second place. My sons took such courses but had built up suitable antibodies to the toxins.

    4. It is fascinating when the relevant Catholic universities publicize their "Jesuit" values - a transition from rigorous and devout to "woke."

  2. The damn Puritans have lead to destruction wherever they have taken control, religious or secular.

    Many people in my church circles look up to the Puritans because of their reformed doctrine and moral purity. I can agree with some of those things but they really were unpleasant buggers to be around.

    They pretty much started the American Revolution too. Don't know how much their post-millenial pietism led them to that, but I am now very curious.

    1. RMB, if you are interested, I have reviewed a book on the American Revolution and have written several posts on this. The book is entitled "The New Nation: A History of the United States During the Confederation 1781 – 1789," and the author is Merrill Jensen.

      You can find the posts in the bibliography tab at the top of the page, in alphabetical order by author.

  3. What a gem, the nods to how progressivism started intertwined with the lord of the rings, golden. I wasn't aware it had started with this sort of guile. Great piece Sir.

    1. Thank you.

      When I started writing it, I wasn't aware of this either. I had a different title in mind, something like "The Wrong Way for Christians to [something; I don't exactly remember]". There was no idea of Frodo. As I worked through it, the connection to the one ring struck me.

  4. The trouble with labels like pre-a-or post Millennialism is that they do not have a common interpretation or understanding among Christians or non-Christians.
    As a former pre-M, it was about 15 years ago, I was prompted to begin a study which eventually led to my presence on the internet - - which explains the process and is still ongoing.
    In one sense, I now considered myself a post-M, but when I read the Wikipedia definition linked here by bio, I didn't recognize anything which remotely described my fundamental Christian faith.
    I started and wrote my basic purpose for my website 5 years ago. It has essentially remained static with minor changes and updates, one of which states: "UPDATE: While the dispensationalists were retreating from the cultural foray, another branch from the church launched what we now call Progressivism - be sure to look for Murray Rothbard's "World War I- The Fulfillment". It is a long read but it is fascinating to discover how our present circumstances evolved from some insane works done in the name of Christ. (No - it was not the Crusades!)"
    At this point, it can become increasingly laborious to continue my narrative here, so I refer again to my website and DaLimbraw Library.
    I appreciate bio here bringing this subject into broader focus, but he's dead on - some of the works of 'Christian pietism' are nothing more than self-righteous disciples of Old Scratch in sheep's clothing.
    Anyone wishing to really dig into this can start as I referred earlier, the real work begins in the CAP Lessons in the library.
    Our role in history is clearly spelled out by Jesus Himself and throughout the entire Bible, the problem is that theology - as Vox Day so abtly describes - often becomes the deceptive art of explaining that the Bible doesn't mean what it says. It does, but 'theology' began in the Garden of Eden!

    1. Thank you, Crush.

      For others here, I recommend visiting his website:

      Our paths intersect on topics of Christianity, culture (including Gramsci) and liberty. He additionally offers content on the value of homeschooling - parents, start right where you are.

      Finally, he long ago came to a place I have only begun recently to recognize: we are in God's kingdom, right here, right now. This isn't merely some reference to the afterlife or when Christ returns in glory (pre, post or whatever). It means we have work to do, engaging with this world, and not merely looking forward to the next. It's all one.

      Crush, if I mis-represented any of your views, my apologies - and please correct me...gently!

  5. bio - your gracious reply not only summed up my present understanding of our role as Christians - it did so precisely and concisely. After all, your ability to distill the essence out of complex subjects and well written, but long, books by various authors has helped me immensely in the past and is the primary reason there is a hefty dose of bionic mosquito in DaLimbraw Library - to be discovered by others looking for answers to life's questions.
    As I mention at my sites, 'everything I have learned has come from reading what OTHERS have researched and written' - thus edifying me and those who take the the time to dig into the 'hidden gold' which - sadly - is often hidden in plain sight. Reading, and especially comprehension, are becoming a lost art!
    But the work, by the Grace of God, must go on, come hell or high water.
    To those who visit my site, I bid you welcome and promise nothing more than 'blood, sweat and tears' - and occasional moments of immense satisfaction.
    Thank you again, bio - and keep writing!

  6. “This politically influential subset of Christians saw the State as the instrument through which they would stamp out sin and Christianize the social order – thus speeding Jesus’s return and bringing on their hoped-for thousand-year reign.”--BM

    All political movement can be described as some type of “religious” activity in which the State (government, ruling class) can be used to bring about a hoped-for end to “save” the social order. Whether this movement is secular or religious does not matter. What is important is to understand that the adherents of any single belief system do exactly the same thing—work to gain power in order to force their own particular viewpoints and beliefs on the society at large, thus “saving” it. The Puritans and Progressives then were no different than the puritans and progressives are today. All want to purify society and culture after their own manner by passing laws which will purge “sinful behavior” and bring about a more “righteous” society—whether Jesus returns to help or not. In essence, there is not much difference between one group which attempts to bring on “their hoped-for thousand-year reign” and one which attempts to create a “hoped-for thousand-year reich”. The end is the same, only the means vary.

    I operate from a post-millennial perspective and firmly believe that over time and in history, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ will visibly manifest on Earth before He comes back to claim His own. What I refuse to do is to try to force the event by manipulating the law to make other people conform to my standard. Instead, it will happen slowly, gradually, even invisibly, as individual people submit to the rule of Christ and change their lives under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, effecting social change within their own sphere of influence, just as a stone thrown into a pond will eventually cause ripples to wash up on a far shore.

    This is an ethical system. It cannot come about by force. It must be achieved voluntarily. People change for the better, not because someone else tells them to, but because they want to. Anything else is a power struggle and pits the so-called “kingdom” against the real one, which always wins in the end.

    “Of the INCREASE [emphasis mine] of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from that time and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:7, Berean Study Bible)

    The only question to be resolved in this is whether Jesus set up His kingdom while on Earth and has been reigning over it ever since. Or not. For me, it is an open and shut case.

  7. I agree that the Church should work in the world today to preach the gospel, to call out injustice, and to bring comfort to those suffering.

    But I don't see a need to be Post-Millennial to do that. I also find the doctrine problematic Biblically.

    Could you explain how you incorporate the 2 passages below into your belief?

    First is in Acts 1:
    "6 So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; 8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”"

    The apostles ask about ushering in the physical kingdom of God on Earth. Jesus in my view blows them off, explaining that isn't their purpose. That to me sounds like instruction not to focus on creating a kingdom on Earth, but building the Church. The Millennial reign is a physical kingdom. And Post-Millennialism says the Church will create a physical kingdom on Earth for a 1000 years before Jesus comes back.

    The other passage that I think leads me away from Post-Millennialism is Revelation 20. Jesus returns physically to the Earth in Revelation 19. He has returned. In Revelation 20 it says:

    "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain [a]in his hand. 2 And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; 3 and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.

    4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of [b]their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years."

    There is a lot going on here, but we learn in the Millennial Kingdom. Christ is on Earth and all the saints have been resurrected and rule with Christ on Earth.

    You see similar language in Zechariah too about the coming of the physical kingdom.

    1. RMB, if this comment is directed to me, I will clarify: when I mentioned to Roger that we were quite on the same page, I wasn't thinking of the "post" part of his comment. I really don't spend any energy on pre- or post- or a-. Above my pay grade.

      "That to me sounds like instruction not to focus on creating a kingdom on Earth, but building the Church."

      But building the Church IS creating the kingdom, isn't it? Jesus has told them that it would be a different kind of kingdom: you advance by being least.

      I believe this "kingdom" began at the Resurrection, or at latest with the coming of the Holy Spirit. At least that's my current thought.

      If your comment is directed to Roger (or someone else), please clarify.

    2. It was to Roger.

      "But building the Church IS creating the kingdom, isn't it? Jesus has told them that it would be a different kind of kingdom: you advance by being least.

      I believe this "kingdom" began at the Resurrection, or at latest with the coming of the Holy Spirit. At least that's my current thought."

      In some ways yes building the Church is building the Kingdom. But in some ways it isn't. Building the Church by preaching the gospel and making disciples brings more of the world under obedience to Jesus. Verses describe when someone believes they are transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of light. In that way I agree. The kingdom started at the Resurrection or Pentecost. There are fulfillments now and in the future, culminating in the Millennial Kingdom and then the New Earth.

      But in another way it isn't the same thing as the Millennial Kingdom. There are verses all over Scripture that describe a unique time when Messiah is ruling on David's throne. Revelation 20 shows some of that. But there are things in Zechariah, Zephaniah, Daniel, Isaiah and others that further describe that time.

    3. RMB, I also do not see it as the same thing as the millennial kingdom for the reasons I mentioned immediately above: I really haven't and don't plan to spend much time on figuring out the whats and whens of this. It doesn't change my role in the meantime.

    4. I almost regret mentioning that I hold to the post-millennial viewpoint, but there it is. The only reason I brought it out was to express my belief that using the State to bring about positive social change is not necessary. We have the Holy Spirit among us. What more do we need except time and a belief that that is enough? After all, God has said, "Yea, since the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who can hinder it?" (Isaiah 43:13, American Standard Version)

      "I agree that the Church should work in the world today to preach the gospel, to call out injustice, and to bring comfort to those suffering.

      But I don't see a need to be Post-Millennial to do that."--RMB

      Neither do I, but it helps.

      "The apostles ask about ushering in the physical kingdom of God on Earth. Jesus in my view blows them off, explaining that isn't their purpose."--RBM

      I agree, but this neither promotes nor detracts from the doctrine of post-millenialism any more than it does pre-millennialism. Jesus is simply telling them its none of their business and they should just plan on performing their mission when they are given the go-ahead. I might add that certain pre-millennial "forecasters", especially those of the "rapturist" persuasion, really could benefit from this advice, instead of constantly trying to pick a date when Jesus will return and set up His kingdom.

      "The Millennial reign is a physical kingdom."--RBM

      I do not distinguish between the spiritual and the physical reigns of Christ. He is the King. He is ruling over His Kingdom. He is present with us in the form of the Holy Spirit. He is seated on the throne at the right hand of the Father. Right here, right now, forever and always. Is it not conceivable that the Church and the Kingdom are one and the same--at least in the eyes of the King, Who is building both? It may not appear that way to us, but we do not see as He does. May He reign forever!

      Revelation is a complex, highly symbolic book and has been used to argue for (and against) both post and pre-millennial thought. Quite often, it has been used as a stand-alone weapon, but it is intimately linked in so many ways to much of the rest of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. As modern day Christians, most of us do not understand this and, as a result, cannot understand Revelation. I will say nothing more about it.

    5. It strikes me that you both agree (as do I) on the task in front of us today as Christians. I am all for leaving the rest in God's hands.

    6. Yeah. We agree on enough. It would be fun to continue the conversation outside of this site though. Especially the specifics of Revelation 19 and 20 but not here for sure.

    7. RMB, didn't you say something a little while ago about writing a book at a future date? Well? There's your topic. Send me a link. I'll enjoy reading it.

  8. Roger, I am writing, I don't think it will be book size, something about my thoughts on Romans 13 and the correct application.

    Post-Mill, Pre-Mill would be an actual book. Not sure I have that in me just yet.